Does managerial feedback matter more in engagement than attendance?

With hybrid working gaining ground among workers at a brutal pace, perhaps nothing will ever be the same again. Gallup's findings suggest that it's time for workplace leaders to rethink their expectations of presenteeism, and instead invest more energy in weekly systematic, meaningful and supportive feedback.

The result is higher employee engagement and performance, and lower turnover.

A Gallup survey - conducted immediately after the pandemic - found that telecommuters who work two to three days a week in the workplace, in the community, are more engaged and have better well-being.

But there's one factor that matters significantly more than the number of days spent in the office, according to experts at the international research firm: 80% of employees who say they received meaningful feedback in the past week are fully engaged, regardless of how many days they worked in the office.

As noted,

meaningful managerial feedback is four times more effective in driving engagement than the required number of working days in the office.

The problem is that a Gallup study found that of some 15,000 employees, only 16% said that the last conversation they had with their manager was extremely rich and meaningful, even useful.

So, what is meaningful, rich, useful?

Gallup's researchers needed no more than that, and they immediately looked at the most common characteristics of highly meaningful and less meaningful conversations, summarised in five points.

1. Recognition of recent work

Research shows that only 10% of workers are asked about how they would like to be recognised and appreciated. In comparison, only 23% of workers strongly agree that they get the right amount of recognition for the work they do. Yet those who do receive it are four times more likely to be engaged.

2. Cooperation and relationships

In hybrid workplaces, collaboration and relationships are at risk. Gallup found that the correlation between the quality of co-worker relationships and workplace engagement and the likelihood of recommending a company was stronger in 2022 than before the pandemic. They added that leaders play a key role in connecting team members.

3. Current objectives and priorities at work

It is important that day-to-day expectations of work are clear to workers, especially younger ones. It is also a key element of effective remote working to have at least one face-to-face meeting a week, not only to keep up with changes in customers and business objectives, but also to maintain direct contact with employees.

4. The length of a conversation

Researchers believe that between 15 and 30 minutes should be enough time for a meaningful and useful conversation, but, they add, this is only true if these occasions are frequent.

They also found that conversations lasting 15 to 30 minutes have a greater impact than those lasting 30 to 60 minutes. However, they also point out that if managers do not give feedback to employees on a weekly basis, they will need longer conversations.

5. Employee strengths, or things they do well

Managers can have much more effective discussions about how individuals do their jobs if these discussions are based on what employees understand best. It is not so "ground-breaking" to find that reinforcement is a significant contributor to engagement.

The point is that feedback is useful to employees if their manager focuses on 

  • recognition,
  • cooperation,
  • goals and priorities,
  • and strengths.

And when these conversations happen every week, they take less time away from work overall, according to Gallup researchers, who say that regardless of the problems and challenges, managers should also support and inspire employees.

Feedback suggests that employees rate conversations that are weak in this regard as

by managers, they point out their weaknesses or what they are doing wrong.

Without these key focus areas, experts say, it is extremely difficult for leaders to build trust and inspiration.

5 methods for managerial interventions and support

Gallup has compiled - based on its own research - some of the methods that have been found to be successful and work.

Implementing strengths-based governance

This method simplifies and rationalises the role of the manager. When managers act as coaches for their teams, they need to pay particular attention to three aspects:

  • clarify the goals of each team member,
  • do continuous discussions
  • and create accountibility.

Support simple, but with scientific rigour

It is crucial for managers to have a thorough understanding of human nature, while also understanding how business prosperity and customer satisfaction work.

Best practices for managers, even from the ground up

The Gallup experts recommend that managers also create a platform to share good practices on feedback techniques.

These could cover topics such as identifying employee strengths, or how to improve engagement and individual performance. In addition, they also recommend that feedback meetings can be practiced between managers themselves.

If you already have a coach, make managerial feedback part of the process

An increasingly common internal service is to offer managers the support of a coach in their work. Including management feedback in the topics covered can make the work more effective.

Learning from other managers…

…is not a shame, indeed. Gallup experts strongly recommend that leaders - not within the company - learn from each other. This type of knowledge sharing can go a long way in helping leaders learn about recurring challenges, solutions to those challenges and successful practices.

Good leadership feedback is effective according to Gallup research

After COVID, Gallup conducted 17 studies on the effectiveness of the skills development detailed above. In each study, they had a test group of leaders who completed a strengths-based, support-based training and, of course, a control group who did not participate. The studies involved 14 774 participants and 2 354 teams.

Gallup measured the engagement, turnover and effectiveness of managers and their teams one year before the training started, and 9-18 months after the training programme was completed.

They found that

more skilled managers in this area had 10-22% higher engagement, while their team had 8-18% higher engagement.

In addition, they have 21-28% lower turnover and are 20-28% more likely to improve their performance compared to their peers. Moreover, these effects have increased in subsequent years.

Finally, Gallup experts added that once valuable and supportive leadership feedback becomes a regular part of everyday life, typically on a weekly basis, there is a predictable prediction of higher engagement, better performance and lower turnover.

At the 2022 Connect Conference, Zoltán Kulcsár, Head of HR Development and Program Office at CIB Bank, spoke about their Feedback Plus program, which we write about here.

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